When I was a child my grandfather would sometimes barbecue a whole hog to mark the end of summer. He was a honest-to-goodness country boy and knew what he was doing with a pig and a pit. The huge beast was split and slowly cooked on a metal grate set over a pit of gray cement blocks above glowing embers. My grandfather would make a basting mop out of a bent pecan branch and white cotton rags, patiently basting the pig with a potent broth of vinegar and salt, letting heat and smoke slowly transform that pig into our Labor Day feast. My sister, the cousins and I would run around in the nearby yard, begging to stir the coals or add split pieces of oak, absolutely anything to be near this unusual scene that utterly transfixed us. To this day, I can close my eyes and hear the sizzle of the fat as it dripped on the white-hot coals.
Meanwhile, the women were inside the steamy, hot kitchen creating the supporting cast for our Labor Day BBQ: tubs of creamy potato salad, crisp coleslaw, deviled eggs and simmering pots of tangy sauce. As night came on, our mothers hung up their aprons and eventually called us into the house. After a long battle in the bathroom, cleaning off the dirt and the soot, they’d manage to still us and get us into our beds, often a series of cots laid out in rows in the living room. We’d fight sleep as long as we could before crashing, the excitement from the day finally taking hold. The men would stay up all night in shifts tending the pig and the fire, sipping on coffee — and maybe some homemade wine.
Many of us don’t have that kind of opportunity to go whole hog for Labor Day, but I’ve got just what you need to create your own down-home comfort: Brown Sugar Pork Chops with Georgia Peach BBQ Sauce. I’ve often said it’s not what’s at the table, it’s that we are at the table together. The Georgia Peach BBQ sauce is a pleasantly pungent combination of sweet fruit and spice. It can easily be made ahead — so you’re not in a hot kitchen while trying to herd excited children to bed. The day of, the bone-in chops are brined in a mixture of brown sugar and salt. I like bone-in to give them a bit of added moisture and protection from the fiery-hot heat of the grill. The chops are then grilled until seared, and marked on both sides before a few strokes of sauce at the end of cooking. It’s down-home comfort I’m certain you’re going to love.
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Get the Recipe: Brown Sugar Pork Chops with Georgia Peach BBQ Sauce
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.